After a whirlwind two days of meeting with multiple leaders at companies from across the city of Memphis and speaking with several officials from UTHSC and the University of Memphis, we sat down with Dr. James Kang (left) and Dr. Steven R. Goodman (right) to talk about where they’ve been, what has been discussed, and what we can expect in the future if collaboration is successful between the two parties.
- How do you know one another?
SRG: “About 11 years ago, I met James due to my being the Editor-in-Chief of Experimental Biology and Medicine. The journal is published by the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine (SEBM). I have been serving on the SEBM council ever since becoming Editor-in-Chief. James has been on the council and involved in the journal longer than I. We met through the journal and I’m very fortunate. All my scientific relationships begin in friendship and we are very good friends.”
- What is the purpose of this visit?
JK: “Memphis is a good place and I see UTHSC having a very cohesive leadership team for the development of both basic and clinical research in Memphis. Earlier this year, Steve organized a delegation that visited Chengdu and while they were in China we discussed the future development of our research and educational collaborations. We are working to establish a collaboration between UTHSC and Sichuan University and UTHSC and Revotek. I’m here representing both institutes and to discuss our collaborations further. This has been very fruitful and more than I expected. We share the same vision and I will enjoy what we can do in the future.”
- What has been discussed during your time here at UTHSC?
JK: “There are two major things: A collaboration focused on Research and Education and another focused on the commercialization of our [Revotek’s] research and business development. As previously noted, the collaborations between UTHSC and Sichuan University and UTHSC and Revotek are being developed. I will tentatively say Memphis is going to become the future commercialization and business development site for Revotek’s future US headquarters.”
SRG: “All the collaborations have been verbally agreed on as of now. The final step is they need to be executed in writing by the officials at both universities.”
- How would a partnership between UTHSC and Revotek be beneficial to both parties?
SRG: “From a UTHSC standpoint, it’s beneficial in many different ways. In our Operational Strategic Plan for Research, we have an entire section focused on UTHSC and Industry Partnerships and that’s exactly what we’re doing with Revotek. In addition, we are very interested in being a force in clinical trials. We created the Clinical Trials Network of Tennessee (CTN2) which I think would be a perfect platform for conducting clinical trails with the 3D bioprinted blood vessels produced by Revotek. There are also advantages in the research agreements including the CORNET Awards that will occur between UTHSC and Sichuan University in that it will create new collaborations that did not exist previously which will benefit both universities. Additionally, UTHSC students will benefit from training at both Sichuan University and Revotek as well as in a newly developed course focused on 3D bioprinting taught by James and his staff in China.”
JK: “For Revotek, I’ll highlight just a few. Revotek USA is looking for a home site to commercialize our product. UTHSC has a good foundation to support what we are doing now and what we want to do in the future. Secondly, the Clinical Trials Network of Tennessee is definitely beneficial for us as our next step is in clinical trials. Finally, this place offers a cohesive infrastructure and foundation for research interactions. Our technology requires participation from students, faculty and staff which is why I’ve proposed creating a MemphisInstitute of Regenerative Medicine. Everyone here likes this idea and it will be beneficial for both UTHSC and Revotek.”
SRG: “It will be beneficial in multiple ways and there could potentially be lots of different participants interested in this idea. UTHSC and Revotek, certainly. But there could be interest from the University of Memphis, FedEx, St. Jude, the Memphis Research Consortium, the city of Memphis, and state of Tennessee. There’s a lot of potential good partners that could work together on something that is extremely important.”
- What resources does UTHSC and the City of Memphis offer that could make us a unique collaborative partner in education, business, and research?
SRG: “We’ve mentioned a lot but I will highlight a few. The Plough Center is a perfect site for the production of the 3D bioprinted blood vessels. The fact that we have cardiac surgeons and cardiologists who are very interested. The strong faculty that we have on our cam- pus that are interested in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine are an asset. Having FedEx here in terms of the importance of being able to transfer these 3D bioprinted blood vessels quickly for medical use.”
JK: “The only other item I would add are the people here. We have a solid foundation of trust. Additionally, Steve has put together a very cohesive leadership team and they believe in the future. They have convinced me we will work well together.”
- What benefit(s) does the future UTHSC Biotechnology Research Park present?
SRG: “We are in the process of purchasing the TriMetis Vivarium across the street which will be right in the center of this research park. For any animal studies that need to be done relating to the 3D bioprinting work that James does I can’t think of a better facility than that one. In terms of the future research park, it’s going to have lots of wet and dry lab space as well as offices for businesses that are in the bio-space. So, if James has an interest for Revotek or any of his companies to utilize that kind of space within the US we’re going to be able to offer a first-class facility.”
JK: “We’re not just looking at currently existing facilities as resources but future developments and I think the future research park offers lots of big development opportunities.”
- Tell me about the UTHSC-Sichuan University CORNET Award and how that will unfold.
Dr. S. Cormier: “The Global CORNET Awards are being developed between our university and West China Hospital of Sichuan University, the Regenerative Medicine Research Center specifically. They’re going to center around regenerative medicine, and cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases.”
SRG: “The way I see the world is as a Systems Biologist and I like networks, both in science and in terms of integrating people. What we’re doing with the CORNET Awards is exactly that. We’re creating rich networks of people working in specific areas where there’s no one institution that has critical mass necessary to really address the major issues in any of the diseases we’re interested in. But by having scientists that are working together in collaboration it makes us each more powerful in what we do. That’s why I think these CORNET Awards are very important and I believe that reaching out throughout the globe is essential when it comes to these networks.”
Dr. S. Cormier: “Their ways of thinking about research are very different than ours. So coming together as a network of people globally brings a lot more innovation to the team that wouldn’t be brought there otherwise. This broadens the whole perspective on the disease itself.”
- Describe the Student and Postdoctoral Fellowship Exchange Program between UTHSC and West China School of Medicine and West China Hospital of Sichuan University.
Dr. S. Cormier: “The Fellowship Exchange Program will take place with students or trainees from China coming here for a minimum of two years and a maximum of three. The vice-versa will also occur. So we’ll also send our students or trainees to China to work in 3D bioprinting or develop projects in collaboration with other people in the West China Hospital Regenerative Medicine Research Center. Specific details are still being developed regarding how one would apply for this program.”
- Final thoughts?
SRG: “From my perspective, I think the visit went extremely well. I found all the meetings to be interesting. I learned a lot during the various meetings about the needs of Revotek and about the needs that James has from Memphis; but also about what he does with his wonderful technology. To me, it was a really valuable experience and I’m looking forward to the next one.”
JK: “Well I don’t think I have too much to add but we enhanced our friendship. I love the Memphis landscape and made new friends. You can see Steve Goodman and Ken Brown have this magnificent leadership but they are humble which is amazing. You can see that they are really knowledgeable. Memphis and UTHSC are really lucky to have this kind of leadership team.”
SRG: “I tell them all the time that I’m amazed at the team we’ve been able to assemble. Other than being smart and good at what they do, they enjoy working together which is also very special.”